On Monday, the House Conference Committee on Utility and Environmental Regulation heard amendments to my proposal to encourage water districts and municipalities to undertake water reuse projects. Earlier in the session, committees removed a provision requiring the Department of Environmental Quality to approve or deny permit applications within 90 days. For many cities and water districts, reuse is the most feasible option for expanding the water supply. This is particularly true in the Norman area, and I am grateful to have the support of the Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District, which supplies water for three area municipalities and maintains Lake Thunderbird. With just days remaining in the legislative session, I am hopeful an agreement can be reached to send the bill to the desk of the governor.
Several of my bills have recently been signed into law. Senate Bill 1183 targets Oklahoma’s epidemic of prescription drug abuse. The bill requires the Office of the Medical Examiner to determine whether prescription drugs have been the immediate cause of a death, and directly report the names of overdose victims to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. This will give the state the ability to better track our abuse problem, and provide additional information on which drugs are being most frequently used. More than 80 percent of drug-related deaths in Oklahoma are caused by prescription drug abuse. Unintentional prescription drug overdoses killed 534 people in Oklahoma in 2012. The growing problem of prescription drug abuse has been a central focus for me as a legislator, and this is one of many measures I have authored to address the issue. Much work remains to be done, but I am grateful to see the bill signed into law.
Senate Bill 1218, also recently signed by the governor, extends peer review protection to additional entities such as physician groups and allows hospitals to enhance patient safety through continuous quality improvement.
An agreement has been reached in principle on a budget for the 2015 fiscal year. The Legislature this year faced a $188 million budget shortfall, which will result in a series of targeted agency cuts and efficiencies across state government. However, the agreement provides for a number of important funding increases in priority areas like public safety and education.
Under the proposed budget, public schools will receive a funding increase of $80 million. This increase is the largest for any sector of state government. Pay increases for state troopers are also part of the agreement. The Department of Public Safety will receive an additional $5.4 million for pay raises and improvements. Corrections employees and child welfare workers will also receive pay raises under the agreement. In total, the agreement will provide pay increases for 12,378 state employees in the coming fiscal year.
An additional $44.6 million will be allocated to the Department of Human Services to enable the agency to continue implementing the Pinnacle Plan, an initiative to improve child welfare services. Legislative leaders and the governor have also agreed to a $120 million bond, to be repaid over a period of 10 years, to repair the state Capitol.